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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Unlike last year, Wildcats consistent with starting lineup”

    Roman Veytsmansports editor
    Roman Veytsman
    sports editor

    There’s something to be said for consistency.

    It’s the feeling you get when you look into your pantry every morning and see your favorite box of cereal. You open the refrigerator, and you grab the milk. You open the drawer, and you find a spoon.

    It’s your starting lineup.

    But what if that cereal was missing or ineffective? The milk was 10 days past its prime, and that spoon you were searching for had gone AWOL.

    But you’re hungry, so you make do. You use a fork, you use your roommate’s favorite Super Sugar with Sugar Cereal, and you dump that into water. But it’s just not the same.

    For Arizona basketball last year, the starting lineup was just never the same. At the beginning of every game, you couldn’t count on opening the stat sheet and seeing familiarity. And although surprises can be fun and exciting, there’s just certain times you don’t want to be surprised.

    Like when you’re sitting on the toilet or speaking to the police, or when the fantasy football player you just picked up and wisely inserted into your starting lineup all of a sudden goes down on the first play of the game.

    Changes to a team’s starting lineup are similar in that when they happen, they are rarely positive or derived from positivity.

    The Wildcats used seven different starting lineups last year, including three different ones in their first three games. Not until the eighth and ninth games of the season did Arizona use the same lineup in back-to-back games.

    First forward Isaiah Fox manned the middle, then center Kirk Walters, then Walters and forward Bret Brielmaier. There was just a lack of chemistry, continuity or (insert word ending with ity here).

    And Arizona suffered by its standards, starting the season at 4-3 and worrying Wildcat fans more than the old lady whose cat won’t come down from the 30-foot tree.

    But this season, through six games, there has been a grand total of…one starting lineup. UA head coach Lute Olson pondered different starters earlier in the season. He even told the media there may be a surprise in the lineup before the NAU game. But Olson eventually stuck to his five guns.

    Granted Arizona has essentially played its five starters the entire game most of the time and will play those five until the wheels fall off, but that starting five has come together against both quick perimeter teams (New Mexico State) and big, bruising teams (Illinois). And if the best five starts, finishes, and plays in the middle without falling over from exhaustion, then isn’t it better to play those who average a combined 81.5 points per game and shoot over 55 percent from the field than scramble to find those less proven?

    “”Everybody wants to play, a lot of these guys over the years – the starters – have hated to come out period,”” UA associate head coach Jim Rosborough said.

    Instead of fighting to stay in the starting lineup, there were times when some of Arizona’s players seemed like they were fighting to be taken out. Whether it was former guard Hassan Adams’ off-court actions, former guard Chris Rodgers’ on and off-court actions or guard Jawann McClellan’s injuries, Olson had to do a juggling act worthy of the Ringling Brothers.

    If any team is capable of playing to its potential without depth, it may as well be this team. The Wildcats sport two gazelles on the wings in Marcus Williams and Chase Budinger, the former of which Olson says is in the best shape of anyone on the team and the latter of which looks like he could play a volleyball-basketball doubleheader on any given day.

    Forward Ivan Radenovic, Arizona’s “”so-called”” center at 240 pounds, has had no problem running at break neck speeds with his smaller teammates. He’s averaging career highs in field goals and 3-point and free throw percentage, while also knowing that a) he will get the ball in this offense and b) there is no one on the bench to make up for his production.

    Guard Mustafa Shakur played 40 minutes against Illinois and sports a turnover/assist ratio of 2.6/1, so he’s not exactly throwing the ball away because he’s tired.

    McClellan, the biggest question mark in Arizona’s quintet because of his recovering knee and the fact that he practices only every other day, has a role slightly more difficult to manage. With guard Daniel Dillon being one of the few bench players Olson trusts though, McClellan can receive a breather and at the same time know that he’s not fighting for minutes down the stretch.

    So Arizona can take solace in its Fab 5 not changing any time soon. But with minutes adding up on the legs of each player, the end of the year will only tell if these five can do what it takes to fully carry the Wildcats.

    If they’ve showcased anything thus far, it appears their presence on the court when the public address announcer gets ready to speak will be consistent.

    Roman Veytsman is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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